Follow my travels (actual not mental)

imageI’ve tried now six times to get this posting to work. This iPad freezes, deletes, won’t take a link — it’s worthless.

I’m trying to use the iPad because I did not bring my computer, having been told by many people that this idiotic device would do everything my computer does. They obviously do not blog.

I’m in Stockholm with the choir of Calvary Lutheran Church of Richland Hills, Texas. We are on a tour that you can read about at the link below (if I try to put it here, it will go into the title of this posting — thanks, iPad). We are posting stuff together on that blog, and the “about” page explains what we’re doing. I’m playing organ and piano.

We spent several days in Arvika, Sweden, and are now in Stockholm overnight on our way to Helsinki. I walked alone about Stockholm for two hours yesterday.  What a beautiful city. If I can ever pull together the money and convince a certain someone to come with me, I will be back here.

The lake at Arvika at dawn

The lake at Arvika at dawn

At any rate, here is our blog URL. I hope you’ll look in on us. I’m going to try to post a couple of random pictures here, but it probably won’t work.

I’m writing here because I’ve been unable to write for five days, and I am going  ing hypergraphic. It’s 4:30 AM, and of course the sun is playing it’s game of making it light for hours before it actually comes up.

The link to our blog:

I need a valet or a personal planner or. . .

Whose fault was it?

Whose fault was it?

Getting ready to do anything that requires a modicum of organization is nearly an impossibility for me. Always has been. Trips especially.

My favorite class at the University of Redlands was the Physical Geology class I took as a Junior. Honest. It started out as a pain in the backside—memorizing types of rocks and names of the “elements” and geological periods (it’s The Cretaceous, not The Cretaceous Period, by the way). And then the fun started. Within an hour’s drive from the campus is an example of every kind of geological formation such a class would ever want to study. Including the San Andreas Fault (a crack of which transverses the campus).

On a Saturday near the end of the semester the class went on a field trip to see the most famous and important formations. The date was announced the first day of class, and we were told not going on the trip meant failure. Period. For most of us (the music majors, at any rate) the class fulfilled our one-physical-science-course requirement. It was one of only half a dozen classes I took outside the School of Music.

The day of the field trip, I woke up early (as always) and rejoiced that I had nothing on my calendar and had an entire day free to practice for my Junior Recital which was fast approaching. I much of the day, and only when it was much too late, realized I had forgotten the field trip. Long story short, I eventually convinced the professor (Dr. S. W. Dana) that I had not just blown it off. He agreed that if Dean Umbach would allow me to take the field trip the next semester, I could have an incomplete and finish the course then and graduate on time.

That was by no means the first nor the last nor even the most important such experience of my life. It comes to mind every time I’m getting ready for a trip.

Two weeks in Scandinavia is a trip almost incomprehensible to the organizational part of my brain. Don’t get me wrong. I have lists of things to do—the first task when I finish writing this should be to consolidate the lists. But there is no way I can figure out how to do everything on the listS.

When things throw me off—yesterday I discovered boarding my diabetic cat will cost $616 instead of the $280 I thought I had been told three weeks ago, for example, and I have to figure out some other way to get him his insulin shots—I become not more efficient, but less.

Is this the result of bad parenting? I wish I could blame my over-organized, incredibly efficient parents (my father’s library was shelved and catalogued by the Dewey Decimal System), but what I logically should have learned from them is not borne out in my reality. Is this the result of sloppiness? Is it the result of not caring about details—thinking I’m too special to have to do anything as mundane as get organized? The result of TLE that has made my world seem all too often like a dream? Laziness? Forgetfulness? You decide. I can’t.

A California Alluvial Fan

A California Alluvial Fan

All I know is that I have too much left to do before Thursday, and here I am trying to make a recording of the “Meditation on Jesu meine Freude,” by Gardner Read. (I want to record it because that’s the best way I know to simulate an audience to practice for public performance.) I’ve finally discovered a work I want to record on my little practice organ that I can’t force onto the instrument. Purists and real organists most likely shudder at many of the recordings I post, but . . . (I won’t say what I think about that).

I had the privilege of knowing Garner Read. He was an old man by the time I met him—retired as Professor of Composition and Composer in Residence at Boston University. I don’t remember how we met, but I knew who he was because many generations of music students, including mine, used his textbook on orchestration.

Honored to Know Him

Honored to Know Him

In about 1990 I played a recital including three of his “Chorale Preludes on Southern Hymn Tunes,” and he attended. It was great fun. He gave me an old copy (original, from 1940) of his “Meditation.” It is an intensely sweet melody spinning out over a simple harmonic accompaniment. I wish I could record it. Perhaps if I get myself organized enough to get on the plane Thursday, I’ll record it on one of the organs I’ll play in Scandinavia. I hope so.

I love to tell the story

Classical revival splendor

Classical revival splendor







The First Baptist Church of Omaha, Nebraska, perches at the top of a small hill at the corner of Harney and Park in a kind of neo-classical revival splendor. I don’t know enough about architecture to describe it adequately, so you will have to figure it out for yourself.

Perhaps the building’s most remarkable characteristic is survival.

Interstate 480 cuts a swath through downtown Omaha that’s a near miss for the building. Perhaps the route was carefully chosen to miss the church and other important buildings in the city. The church’s website says the church has been in its present location since 1904 when the current building was constructed.

The church’s organ is (my goodness! I hope it’s still there) a giant 4-keyboard Austin tubular-pneumatic beast with three divisions spread across the front of the church, and a solo division (complete with tuba mirabilis, as loud a reed stop as an organ ever ought to have).  I know the building was built in 1904 because between 1960 and 1963 I sat for countless hours staring at the nameplate on the organ console, “Austin Organs, opus __, 1904). I don’t remember the opus number, but I would guess it was at the time Austin’s crowning achievement. Its preservation should have been a concern of the Organ Historical Society.

During high school, nearly every day after school I took the twenty-minute walk from Central High School at 20th and Dodge up the hill to the church to practice the organ. Roger Wischmeier, organist of the church, was my teacher. My parents were members of the church, so the church allowed me to practice there.

When I was a senior in high school, I played my first real organ recital on the Austin. I remember a few details of the program.

A glimpse of the Austin Organ

A glimpse of the Austin Organ

The most important of those details is that I played the Bach “Gigue” Fugue in G major from memory. At the time I had a girlfriend (didn’t every gay boy in the world in 1963?). She had a man’s name, as did her older sister. Their father was a Bach aficionado, and he raved about my playing, which pleased me more even than my teacher’s praise. My playing of the Bach went on to bless (or curse) me. When I went to college, fully expecting to be an English major so I could write (what else?), I auditioned for the music faculty because I wanted to take organ lessons for fun. I played the fugue from memory, and Dr. Spelman offered me a scholarship as an organ major on the spot. What defense did I have against such recognition?

Back to my high school recital. I also played three chorale preludes by Donald Hustad, at that time and for many years thereafter the music director of the Billy Graham Crusade. His music was favored by my teacher, and he assigned me much of Hustad’s music to learn. Hustad, was a formidable musician and musicologist. For years after high school I dismissed him because of his connection with Billy Graham, but have come to my senses as an old man and understand not only his solid and inspired compositional ability but also his contribution to understanding the history of Evangelical music in the United States.

The three preludes I played on that program were on the tunes of the hymns “I Love to Tell the Story,” “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” and “Children of the Heavenly Father.”

I am grateful that I still have the (bedraggled) book of preludes from which I learned those pieces—with Mr. Wischmeier’s performance notes in them.

As organist in Lutheran churches, I discovered the usefulness of many of Hustad’s compositions. He seems to have had an affinity for Scandinavian Lutheran hymn tunes. The “national anthem” of Swedish-American Lutherans is “Children of the Heavenly Father.” Over the years I have used that Hustad prelude many times.

I’m now headed for Sweden (five days and counting). I will be playing several organs in Scandinavia. The choir I will accompany (Calvary Lutheran Church, Richland Hills, Texas) will sing “Children of the Heavenly Father,” and I will introduce it with the Hustad setting. Fifty years of my life will come full circle.

I will also play a setting of “I Love to tell the Story,” but one I have recently learned, by Emma Lou Diemer, Professor Emeritus of Composition at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

I won’t try to wax eloquent about the importance both to my musical development and to my sanity of these hymn tunes and music I learned practicing at the First Baptist Church of Omaha. I will say only that in my (nearly life-long) confusion-bordering-on-apostasy about religious matters, this music is the constant, I could even say the anchor, of my life.

Donald Hustad’s “Children of the Heavenly Father” played on my small practice organ, recorded with a tiny digital camera.

Someone whose mind works in mysterious ways

Tosh the cat

Tosh the cat

The cat loves Core Wellness™ chicken, turkey, and chicken liver formula food. There’s no doubt about that. I put out her usual amount of food, and she gobbled it down. Half an hour later, she was back at her bowl literally “lick[ing] the platter clean.” She seemed desperate to find more of the feast. So I got out a bit more—didn’t even nuke it to warm it up—and she has now licked the bowl clean again. Her name is Tosh, short for Natasha. She’s a sort of tortoise-shell, only not quite. You know, American Shorthair Alley Cat. Funny we don’t breed cats and make them purebred with the same fanaticism we do dogs. I’ll bet a cat could be bred that’s as “smart” as any dog. And she’d be a lot less trouble than a dog.

So that’s where my head is this morning. The cat. Up at 5 and ready to write, and my mind already working overtime on – on what? That’s the question. On June 13 I wrote about an aspect of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. I suppose I should go back over my five years of blogging and see how repetitive I’ve been. I’m pretty sure I’ve repeated myself ad nauseam about TLE. And then I should never again blabber on about the same stuff. Keep track of it. Index it. So I don’t bore anyone with it again. I’d bet that when I begin talking about it everyone’s eyes roll heavenward which means they stop reading because you can’t read with your eyes rolled up in exasperation or indifference. “There he goes again.”

Back to my mind. I’ve started three writings already this morning. We’ll see how far this one gets before I decide that even I can’t decipher what I’m talking about. I wonder sometimes how much of what I experience is a symptom of the way my brain works and how much is a cause of my (what seems to me to be) odd ways of thinking. There’s the rub. “Odd” describes my thinking much better than any celebratory word like “eccentric” or “creative” or (shudder at the idea) “brilliant.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again that I know brilliant people. Have done since high school. Mike, Tom, Betty, Steve, Nancy. Boy do I wish I had had their brains. High school and college would have been so much easier. And then in college Lance and Lowell and Mike and Pete and Carol. And then in graduate school Mike (seems like some “Mike” showed up everywhere I went—they are not the same person) and Rudy and Vicki and –you should have the picture by now. And all of those people were fellow-students. Then there’s the faculty. Most of them were not as smart or talented as many of their students, but there were a few along the way—Pratt, and Ted, and Jack, and Gerhard, and Cynthia, and several more. No Mike’s, however.  I know what it’s like to listen to, to try to converse with, to go to lunch with, even in a couple of instances, to sleep with someone whose mind works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform (oh, sorry, that’s God, according to William Cowper).

Will I ever wash that hand?

Will I ever wash that hand?

Besides all those folks I’ve dared to call “friend” over the years that I know are, in fact, brilliant, there are a plethora of others I’ve met who are both brilliant and famous. I refused to wash my right hand for a week after I shook hands with Zubin Mehta (not quite, of course—but I told people I wouldn’t).

So if I were brilliant or creative or even eccentric, this little project would have been so much easier. I would have dashed off some astounding bit of writing, or at least a bit that made sense, and had done with it. But it’s not that simple. There’s this little matter of hypergraphia. I don’t know for sure if I have it or not. It’s one of the presentations of folks with TLE. And I have a compulsion to write. All the time. I want to tell you or someone about all of these things in my mind, even when there is nothing in my mind. And I write ridiculous stuff and I write brilliant stuff and I write eccentric stuff and I write just stuff stuff and I even write really awful stuff. But write I will. I didn’t realize I had to write until I had written for years (minus the 20 years I was drunk). And then I tried to stop, and then came the computer. And the rest is history.

Sometimes I wake up with writing already in my mind. The writing wakes me up. This morning it was only a jumble. I still haven’t sorted it out.

Gerhard Krapf, genius

Gerhard Krapf, genius

As the world turns (or, not like father, like son)

Spring one day, summer the next

Spring one day, summer the next

The tour I’ll be a part of (leaving June 20) will be in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida) on The 4th of July.

Perhaps more interesting than being in Russia on The 4th of July is the timing of our departure for Europe. When we leave Dallas, it will be spring. When we arrive in Stockholm, it will be summer. The longest day of the year will be the first day we are in Europe. Did our fearless leader set this calendar on purpose?

In Stockholm, summer officially begins at 7:03:25AM on June 21. Sunrise is at 3:30AM and sunset at 10:08PM. The duration of daylight is 18 hours, 38 minutes, and 6 seconds.

In dark Dallas, sunrise on June 21 will be at 6:22AM and sunset at 8:25PM. The duration of daylight is a paltry 14 hours, 3 minutes, and 33 seconds.

On Friday, July 5, our ground transportation to the St. Petersburg airport for our return trip will fetch us at 3:00AM. Some of the folks in our group are already worried about being awake at that time of day. They are making jokes about staying up all night. “Never worry,” is what I would tell them. Sunset in St. Petersburg on The 4th of July is at 11:20PM (when will they have their fireworks?). Daylight on the 4th will last for 18 hours, 34 minutes, and 44 seconds.  Sunrise on the 5th is 4:46AM. It won’t be so hard to be up at 3AM. Dawn will already be breaking in the east. Of course, twilight will have hardly faded before dawn begins.

The land of the midnight sun? Close to it.

Holidays were Important Events in my family. Christmas, The 4th of July, Easter, and the five birthdays in our immediate family were always great celebrations.

Where will they have their fireworks?

Where will they have their fireworks?

I was thinking about Father’s Day yesterday. I hadn’t given it much thought—my father died September 21, 2011, and I am not a father. And then I heard “Think” on KERA yesterday. The description of the show from the KERA website is

How can our experiences with love and sex inform our positions on gay marriage, religion and other public issues? We’ll find out this hour with advice columnist Dan Savage. His new book is American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics (Dutton, 2013).

Dan Savage is an important voice for LGBT issues. In his interview with Krys Boyd he explained in a way I had never heard (or never paid attention to) the relationships between gay men and our fathers. He said that too close relationships with one’s mother and distant relationships with one’s father do not cause a kid to be gay. They are the result. Fathers sense their sons are gay and do not know how to relate to them, so a distant relationship develops.

I think that explains a great deal about my relationship with my father. However, I must be adamant that he never rejected me. He simply didn’t know how to relate to me until I was an adult and we worked very hard at creating a father/son bond that strengthened as the years passed. I was with him when he died (my siblings would have been there if it had been possible). He had been virtually unconscious for several days. However, I know without doubt that he knew I was there.

As so often happens, the connection between my opening thinking and the point I ultimately want to make is tenuous at best. I was thinking about celebrating The 4th of July in Russia of all places.

That reminded me of my favorite 4th of July memory from my childhood. Our family saw the aurora borealis from our front yard in Scottsbluff. Dad was driving, and we were returning from a disappointing fireworks display. Dad was the first to see the Northern Lights, and he helped us make sense of the wonder.

Remembering that experience led me to many memories of learning about the natural world from my father. Departing on an airplane in spring and landing in summer would have given him no end of pleasure. His explanation of “equinox” when I was very young is the one I remember the clearest. I could tell about camping trips to Colorado, excursions to the Big Horns in Wyoming, hikes in the Wildcat Hills of Western Nebraska, and more.

Don’t try to follow my logic here. There is none. Simply anticipations on the one hand, and memories on the other.

And a slight pre-Father’s Day homage to my father.

The photo below is of my parents and my sister and her late husband. He, too, was a father who helped his daughters to understand the natural world. He helped all of us to understand. I honor the memory of these two fathers. I should wait two days. But why?



Whose Temporal (lobe) Reality Are You In?

Now I lay me down to escape "that way"

Now I lay me down to escape “that way”

I wade knowingly and willfully into dangerous waters where I have no business splashing around. The following is about getting old and about humor.

A few days ago I was in a friend’s apartment. I had arrived moments before. I greeted my friend, put down the bags of groceries for our dinner, petted the cat, and put my cane out of the way. I went into the bedroom to change from the long-sleeve shirt I was wearing into a T-shirt I had brought along in case we decided to take a walk. All of this took perhaps five minutes.

I noticed myself in a mirror, and commented silently to myself that I thought I was wearing a different shirt. Then I remembered I’d changed my shirt. That is, I thought I remembered. But I wasn’t sure I hadn’t dreamed everything I’d done since I parked in the Neiman Marcus garage around the corner. None of it seemed real. Even my thinking about the present moment was not real. I was watching myself from a place that seemed to be outside my head.

I know from experience that if I accept the proposition that what seems to be happening is happening, eventually I will know—and not simply have to pretend I know—it is. That is, know with as much certainty as any human being can know.

OK, so back to earth.

If you’re still reading and (perhaps) wondering why I’m making a big deal out of something that you and everyone else has experienced many times in your life, I’ll let you in on a secret: you may have had such “out-of-body” experiences. I’ll bet they are neither as in-your-face nor as frequent as mine are. Or as scary as mine used to be.

The first time I remember having this experience was in Mrs. Hall’s second grade class at Longfellow School in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. 1953. I clearly remember nestling my head in my arms on my desk hoping “feeling that way” would soon pass. I named the feeling  early on so I could manage my life around it.

My temporal (lobe) reality

My temporal (lobe) reality

It seems a little strange now that it took me so long to realize that I could predict when I was going to “feel that way.” It was after the high B-flat (three octaves above middle C) ringing in my ears that lasted an undetermined amount of time and then exploded into white noise. Those events almost always preceded my checking out of reality, sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for quite a while. And I came to realize that more often than I hoped it would, everything that I experienced while I was “feeling that way” happened over again. Not always, but often enough that it terrified me.

Here’s the humor. Imagine a seven-or-eight-year-old kid in Western Nebraska in 1953 trying to explain all of this first to his parents and then to the family doctor. The important concept here is “1953.” Read up on the history of neuroscience and see what medicine knew about these little quirks of my brain at that time.

I lived with “feeling that way” until 1981 when I was seeing a psychiatrist (for something entirely other—another bit of humor or bitter irony) whose best buddy in medical school had been Dr. Donald Schomer, a protégé of Dr. Norman Geshwind (Google them).  For the first 36 years of my life I never heard the words “temporal lobe epilepsy,” and then I were one.

This is an amorphous diagnosis. Neither Dr. Schomer nor Dr. Mark Agostini (neurologist at UTSouthwestern Medical School in Dallas, “my” neurologist) can pinpoint the lesion in my brain. My diagnosis is 100% from my description of my recurring experience.

Here’s the senescent part of the story. I haven’t heard the high B-flat or the white noise for years.

The last blackout seizure I had was in 2005. I went to Target to buy some Christmas lights. The last thing I remember is saying to the assistant manager of the store, “I don’t know where I am or why I’m here.” Then I was sitting in the MacDonald’s there with two policemen asking if I thought they should take me to the emergency room. I said, no thanks, my car was right out there. They said they’d take me home—I wasn’t driving anywhere.

Here’s a description of the uncharted waters. My TLE is not really “intractable,” but

The largest determinant of quality of life in intractable epilepsy is emotional health. Unfortunately, this is one of the most complex and least understood topics in epilepsy care. It is frequently neglected in the clinic, where physicians focus on seizure burden and medication side effects. . . . epilepsy itself can cause specific difficulties with mood, emotion processing, and social behavior (Hixson, John D., and Heidi E. Kirsch. “The Effects Of Epilepsy and its Treatments on Affect and Emotion.” Neurocase (Psychology Press) 15.3 (2009): 206-216).

Getting old is getting old. I don’t know if feeling much of the time as if I’m just waking up from a dream counts as humor. I’ve begun to think so. However, I know the IRS is not amused by my tentative grasp on reality.

Whose temporal (lobe) reality do you mirror?

Whose temporal (lobe) reality do you mirror?

Pardon me, My Paranoia Is Showing (to the NSA?)

I'm running away

I’m running away

If memory serves me correctly, I first sent and received an email message in 1993. If I had known I’d want to write about it this morning, I would have documented at the time it happened.

My late partner had moved to Dallas, but I was still in Boston.  He told me I could almost certainly use email at Bunker Hill Community College where I taught. The chair of the Office Services Department set up my first email account. I think at that time email was available almost exclusively to colleges and certain companies. I taught. My partner worked for Hewlett Packard.

I remember the incredulity with which I read my first message from him, replied, and received his reply. I don’t recall when I first searched the Internet search, but by that time my life had already been irreversibly changed. I bought my first computer in 1987 to write my PhD dissertation. Sometimes I have great fun telling my students the microchip was invented in my lifetime (Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments in 1957). At other times I am shocked and pained when I tell them.

I experience the same ambivalence when I tell them commercial airplane flight, television, talking movies, and many other markers of the genetics of 21st–century life came to be in my father’s lifetime. The atomic bomb; commercially available cars with power steering—Chrysler Imperial, 1951; MacDonald’s—1948; and Nike shoes—1964— all came into being in my lifetime.  There, I am officially an old fart telling kids how good their lives are compared with mine.

Back to email. The omnivorous cookie monster (are those tiny bits of information we leave behind in every electronic place we go still called “cookies”?) has been compiling data on me since 1993. Not just me—all of us, of course. I stopped worrying about “identity theft” and such things long ago. Anyone who has ever “logged on” has entered the world of electronic tracking. “I never,” a friend said in an email recently, “buy anything online because I want to protect my credit card information.” My answer was that she better close her credit card account. It’s too late to cover her email tracks (and I’m not sure she can delete her credit card information).

It’s no accident we use the word “log” to mean “to enter an electronic database.” A log is “any of various records. . . concerning a trip. . . with particulars of navigation. . . and other pertinent details.” “Logging on” is a record of pertinent details of one’s electronic navigation. Of course, we never really “log on” because it is impossible ever to “log off.” The log keeps perpetuating itself even when we are not using our computers.

The great sadness of our keeping track of everyone’s “pertinent details” is not that our 4th Amendment rights are being violated (which they most

Twilight of the shoe salesman?

Twilight of the shoe salesman?

certainly are). The sadness is that the very act of snooping on each other’s “logs”—yes, if you own stock in any corporation, you are snooping on my emails and tracking my internet use and vice versa—tears at the fabric of our society. It’s not terrorists who create a climate of fear and “terror.” We’ve done it to ourselves.

You wanna make money? You gotta be part of the great end-of-privacy society. That’s it.

I don’t know if you personally can get the records of my online purchase of a couple of “occasional” tables from Target, but if you own shares in Target—which your 401(k) is likely to— you are profiting from the record of my purchase. And if you think my purchase by credit card of a pair of Brooks running shoes yesterday at the exclusive Dallas-based family-owned Luke’s Locker store has gone unnoticed for further reference, you are—I assume—living in la-la-land. Even if the manager of the shoe department did notice my t-shirt and ask if I have seen all four Wagner Ring operas in Seattle or only Götterdämmerung.

Some years ago I saw in an FBI report attained by a Freedom of Information Act request the names of people (one of whom filed the request) who were at an anti-Viet Nam War demonstration in the early ‘70s. I attended the rally with the person named. I’ve wondered from time to time if my name might be in such a report. I don’t give a hoot. I never broke the law.

But if my friends’ names are in an FBI report from more than 20 years before I first used email and the internet, whose names do you suppose might be in NSA reports today? Someone whose email and phone records include many communications with Mufid Abdulqader? Am I being paranoid? Of course I am.

“Baby, don’t hurt me no more.”

The incredible self-sufficient Jelly Fish

The incredible self-sufficient Jelly Fish




A couple of weeks ago I heard on the radio a song that Bugged me so much I had to look it up. “What is love?” sung by Haddaway  (of whom, of course, I had never heard). The song bugged me because—an unusual experience for me with recorded singing—I understood the lyrics.**

They are mindlessly (yes, mindlessly) simple. “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.” Over and over and over again.

The answer to the question, “What is love?” is “Baby don’t hurt me no more.” Good grief! It’s not really fair for me to leave it at that. There is more to the definition:

 Oh, I don’t know, what can I do,
What else can I say, it’s up to you.
I know we’re one, just me and you.
I can’t go on

So the answer to the question is not a definition, but a plea followed by the self-annihilating assertion that the relationship is “up to you,” and the singer says he “can’t go on.”

This is patently absurd. But the lyrics of pop music have always been (generally speaking) absurd. Among my favorite absurdities (I loved it as a nine-year-old and pretended I was Joan Webber singing it) is

Oh, let me go, Let me go, Let me go, lover, Let me be, Set me free, from your spell.
You don’t want me, but you want me, To go on wanting you.
Now I pray that you will say that we’re through.

A few days ago I was part of a Facebook discussion about “What is love?” One person was quoted as saying love is a decision and that sparked a debate.

I completely and steadfastly agree with her. Love IS a decision. Certainly a complicated, difficult, dangerous decision, but a decision nevertheless.

Let Me Go, Lover

Let Me Go, Lover

Forget your Greek philosophy and forget your belief (conscious or not—we’re all Ancient Greek at the core) that there are different kinds of love. We know about philos (brotherly love), eros (romantic love) and agape (communal love). Forget it. That’s highly problematic thinking.

Here’s the example I used in the Facebook discussion: I am approached by a homeless person asking for money. I have absolutely no attraction to her. In fact, I am offended by her. I can, however, DECIDE to treat her with dignity, with respect, with concern – in short, with love.

I know all the arguments against that assertion. “That’s not love.” Well, I say it is.

Then, of course, there’s the guy at the gym I can’t keep my eyes off of, and I can barely keep my hands off him. Is that love? Well, yes. Some would say lust. I don’t think so. I have to DECIDE whether or not to try to seduce him.

Here’s my very simple point. The other person—the person who is the object of one’s “affection,” momentary or otherwise, has nothing to do with how one decides to react. It’s completely my decision how close I get either to the homeless woman or the hot man at the gym. I can decide to join or not to join a community of interest or mutual support. Those are all decisions.

I think those decisions make the difference between fulfillment as a human “being” and the superficiality of human “doing” (sorry for the cliché). If our reactions were not decisions, we wouldn’t be much different from the species of jelly fish I heard about on NPR that don’t even have sex. They somehow simply reproduce themselves. And—most unlike human beings—they’re immortal. They die, and a few of their cells stay alive and start splitting up and make a new jelly fish. They need no one else to continue the propagation of the species.

Here’s how we’re not like those jelly fish. We make decisions. For one thing, we decide whether or not to disclose ourselves to others. I’m not making this up.  I’m not smart enough to come up with such an idea on my own. Sorry for the long quote, but I’m not clever enough to paraphrase or condense it.

To disclose your fears to someone you have known for a week is one thing. . . . It is another thing to disclose your fears to . . . [someone] who knows what you have been through and has, to some degree, endured it with you. . . shared history. . . not only enables the encounter by allowing one to feel comfortable . . . It also . . .  giv[es] it a different meaning and significance. Shared histories and intimacy are thus mutually informing.

. . .  it is because having such relationships is of crucial importance to us that we regard others as irreplaceable. We need people in our lives who are not interchangeable with others so that we can relate to them in unique and specific ways. . . .  if there is no one in our lives who knows what we have been through, and who has been there with us, it is hard to resist the conclusion that we will be missing out on an important form of human interaction.***

I’d say it’s pretty much like deciding to be a jelly fish.

What will your decision be?

What will your decision be?

**Please understand before you read what I’ve written that I have almost no pretense of being a philosopher, a psychologist, a theologian, or a social scientist. I just observe what I observe.
*** Kadlac, Adam. “Irreplaceability and Identity.” Social Theory & Practice 38.1 (2012): 33-54.

The Artsy Lover

book rackMy guess is hardly anyone reading this has read The Art Lover by Carole Maso (New Directions, 1990).

In the 1950s travelers could arrive at Scottsbluff, Nebraska , by railroad or Trailways Bus. I think the Trailways depot was at the lower end of Broadway, across the street from the Lincoln Hotel (I’m sure my siblings will correct me if I’m wrong).

The depot was a dingy one-story brick building with a covered driveway where passengers could board buses sheltered from the weather. The waiting room comprised the rest of the building. I may, of course, be confusing this memory with one from—from God-knows-where.

The waiting room had a revolving wire book rack with books for sale. I clearly remember being with my father fetching someone from a bus. One of the books on the rack caught my attention, and I asked my father to buy it for me. His answer was, in essence, that any book one could buy in a bus station one ought not to read.

And so continued my education as a snob. One would hope merely an intellectual snob, but more likely simply “snob.”

That would not be a matter of concern if I possessed any quality, physical, mental, spiritual, or social, worthy of snobbery. But I don’t. And not buying books in bus stations (these days in airports) has deprived me of a great deal of pleasure without accomplishing much to improve my mind or my social standing.

Maintaining this questionable snobbery I’ve deprived myself of Mickey Spillane. Dashiell Hammett. Jonathan Latimer. Erle Stanley Gardner. Ross MacDonald. Michael Collins. Stephen King, Agatha Christie, and Danielle Steele. Hundreds of Westerns. Spy novels, detective novels, steamy sex novels, science fiction novels. J.K. Rowling. Much of what I have avoided is probably worthy of avoidance. But I have deprived myself of entertainment, of perfectly harmless but enjoyable means of passing the time. I have avoided “hidden pleasures” (or overt prurience).

As I reported here a couple of weeks ago, this spring I was introduced to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander novels (thank you, Jerome Sims). I am now 200 pages from the end of the last of the three. I have read them with pleasure, interest, and suspense—which is exactly their purpose. When I first began reading, I snobbishly thought Larsson did not have the artistic skills to write the number one best-selling work world-wide. And then I gave up my “attitude.”

I hadn’t read for pleasure since the summer reading program at the Scottsbluff Public Library in about 1955. Kids were in groups named after Western explorers. When one of us finished a book, our explorer went another mile along the Oregon Trail. Mine was the Jim Bridger group. We did not win—because my brother’s friend Delmar Coe was in another group, and he read a book a day.
I love The Art Lover. It’s a novel about art, and it morphs into an autobiographical narrative about a friend of Carole Maso’s who died of AIDS, a novelistic tour de force. I love the Wagner Ring operas. I love the El Greco St. Francis in Prayer I first saw at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha when I was in high school. I had no idea what made it great art or why it affected me so deeply.

We are all snobs in our own way. Some wouldn’t see a rock musical for anything. Some wouldn’t attend a concert of music by Stockhausen if it was the last music on earth. Some wouldn’t drive two miles to see a Norman Rockwell painting. Some would drive two miles to avoid seeing a Picasso.

I used to own Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste : Aesthetics in Religious Life by Frank Burch Brown. It’s an interesting book, but on the surface the idea is preposterous. I don’t know where my father learned what “good music” is (surely not at Immanuel Baptist Church in Kansas City in the ‘20s). But I knew from childhood until I was 50 or so, I thought “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” wasn’t “good music.”

I also knew—because his work didn’t hang in the Joslyn—Norman Rockwell wasn’t a great artist. Then I fell in love with the great-grandson of the old lady in his painting Freedom of Worship. Honest. My late partner.

The French philosopher Jacques Maritain wrote (I can’t quote it exactly) that one should not try to make art “Christian,” that the quality of love is what makes a work art.

So I’m hoping to give up being a snob, reverse or otherwise, in my old age and begin to experience what people make and do for the quality of love they put into it—not for my opinion if it’s great, or, for that matter, whether or not I like it.

The Coffee Cantata—A Fond Personal Remembrance

RhinocerosAs I was pouring my first cup of coffee this morning (4:47 AM), I had one of those delightful flashbacks that pop into one’s head, uninvited and mysterious. I was remembering a cup of coffee. It may well have been my very first cup. At minimum, it was the first important cup of coffee, the first that meant enough for me to file it away for further reference.

My friend Ann and I were at a coffee shop in Redlands, CA, late at night. We were students at the University of Redlands. It must have been 1965 or 66. We were great friends. Truth be told, we had been (somehow) friends since we were toddlers. Our parents had been, that is. Her father became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Douglas, Wyoming, when my father left that position to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Worland, Wyoming. I was six months old and she was 18 months old at the time.

Later on, when my father was an executive in the Nebraska Baptist Convention and we had moved to Omaha (1960), her father became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wahoo, about thirty miles west of Omaha. Our parents had been friends since 1945, and they renewed their friendship. Ann and I were (somewhat long-distance) high school friends.

Sitting in that coffee shop in Redlands, Ann ordered a cup of coffee, and I said I didn’t understand why people drank that bitter stuff. She ordered me a cup, poured about half a cup of cream into it, and said I should taste it—that I’d be glad I’d learn to drink the stuff when it came time to study for finals. I had already had the study-for-finals experience at least two semesters at that point, and I couldn’t imagine why coffee would help.

But I drank it, and the rest—I will not resist the clichéd temptation—is history. We were married May 28, 1967. Our marriage lasted until July of 1975, but I still, obviously, drink coffee. She married the Canadian novelist, William P. Kinsella a couple of years after our “no-fault” divorce in Iowa, and I’ve been serially monogamous since then.images

Ann died in 2002.

I am grateful to Ann for much more than teaching me to drink coffee. As a small but non-trivial example, she taught me to appreciate (no, love) contemporary theater. Her M.A. was in theater directing. In 1970 she directed Jean Genet’s The Maids and Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano as her thesis at California State University at Los Angeles (where I was working on an M.A. in music composition). Ann was so fascinated by Ionesco’s work that she produced and directed his Rhinoceros at Colton, CA, high school where she taught.

Ann was indomitable and fearless. We were traveling in Massachusetts in 1972 and were at Tanglewood to hear a Boston Symphony concert. We were having—what else?—a cup of coffee at a hotel in Lenox when Ann jumped up and accosted a total stranger. “Mr. Ionesco, won’t you join us for coffee?” Yes, it was he, and, yes, he did join us for a cup of coffee.

A huge chunk of my autobiography someday will be about my relationship with Ann. I won’t even mention here her glorious soprano voice and the role music played in our lives from high school almost to her death. One of our hopes was someday to perform together the soprano aria Ei! Wie schmeckt der Coffee süsse from the Bach “Coffee Cantata.”  We worked on it in private, but never had the time or discipline to perfect it.

The last cup of coffee I had with her was in 2002 in a mall café in Edmonton, Alberta. I won’t detail that experience except to say that after we had coffee, we went to the church where she was a member, and I played the piano for her to sing the “Holden Vespers” by Marty Haugen.

For most of our married life—and during our rekindled friendship after her divorce from Kinsella—we had a favorite bit of nonsense music. The words are from The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts, published 1896 by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), sung to the tune of the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” We learned this hymn from Fr. Jon Hart Olson of Christ Episcopal Church in Ontario, CA.

Rhinoceros, your hide looks all undone,
You do not take my fancy in the least:
You have a horn where other brutes have none:
Rhinoceros, you are an ugly beast.
Rhinoceros, you are an ugly beast;
You do not take my fancy in the least.

I intended to write about Ann on our anniversary May 28 but couldn’t figure out how. Coffee. From one cup of college student coffee to Rhinoceros.  Fitting metaphors for one of my most complex relationships.

The most beautiful college campus in America

The most beautiful college campus in America